One area where I have repeatedly witnessed inclusivity on campus is with in the Forensics team, sometimes known as the Speech & Debate Team. Since this is an academic team compared to athletic team, the skills required are more mental and social versus physical. (Although some competitions are quite physically demanding!) Because of this, anyone can join.
I have encountered the most diverse group of people in my years of participation within Forensics. I have been a competitor as well as a coach. My teammates and my students run the gamut of representation including people of a variety of races and ethnicities, sexual orientation and gender identities, religious beliefs, mental and physical abilities and disabilities, different geographical regions and nationalities, and all types of political and social beliefs.
People often ask me why Speech and Debate is called Forensics. In Latin, forensics means “public forum” or better translated as something “suitable for courts of law.” So when people refer to forensic science, they are discussing the study of science within a public courtroom (usually as it is applied to gruesome crimes on CSI). In competitive Speech and Debate, this definition extends to a variety of topics and competitive events delivered in a setting structured like a forum. All events are judged, similar to a courtroom.
There are events that focus on different styles of performance: speeches, acting, debate, etc. But regardless of the type of event, Forensics values learning. Even watching a poetry round, which is very artistic and linguistic in nature, the performer still makes an argument to teach the audience something new or show them a new perspective.
Forensics gives students a voice, literally and figuratively. Forensics provides a platform for students to discuss issues that affect them both directly and indirectly. One way students can demonstrate ethos or credibility is to show how a topic relates to them. Coaches frequently ask students, “Why is this meaningful to you? How do you relate to this topic? How can you show the audience your passion!”
Therefore, competitive topics are as diverse as the students. I have coached a Muslim student giving a speech about Islam a phobia. I have coached a psychology major giving a speech about under diagnosis of ADHD in women. I have coached a white male student in a speech about white fragility. The possibilities are vast. If there is a way a student is marginalized, we can discuss that issue in a performance. If there is a social issue that needs to be addressed, we can address it.
Clearly, my bias is showing. I am a communication professor, a coach on the Maricopa Forensics team, and a former competitor on the GCC Forensics team . There are definitely skills required to be successful in speech and debate. But, in my experience, the competition is only one aspect. The opportunity to to speak about important events and information as well as the camaraderie of a team provides an amazing and inclusive opportunity for our students. While the point of this post wasn’t to give a plug to the team… if you happen to have a student who is a dynamic speaker and a solid student, we’d love to see more students experience the inclusivity and the opportunity of being part of the team.